Let’s turn the tables for a moment. We’re so used to thinking in the mindset of searching for new leads and managing client relationships. But think back to the last time when you took a turn as the customer.
How did your experience on the client-side influence your feelings about the overall business? More specifically, did it affect whether you’d return again for their product or service?
When done right, investing in a strong relationship with clients fosters trust, brand loyalty, and repeat customers. So whether you know this to be true from the point of view of the consumer or the provider, it’s easy to understand why clients are a critical ingredient for company sustainability and profitability.
Let’s take a look at the role a good customer relationship can play in growing your business, and five best practices for how to build lasting relationships with clients.
The importance of building relationships with clients
Building rapport with customers is a smart business move, plain and simple. You’ll see the positive effects on multiple sectors of your work.
Reason #1: Higher client retention rate and increased referrals
Many web designers attest to the 80/20 principle: 80% of their sales come from 20% of their customers. A distribution like that can only happen if clients have enjoyed the experience of working with you, and if you’ve invested some time during the project in building customer loyalty. The result? Less time spent on chasing down new leads to fill your calendar.
Reason #2: Facilitate a more seamless web design process
There are two client relationships management best practices that have the power to transform the entire web design process: alignment and excellent communication.
Syncing early on about expectations, vision, and timeline for the project lays the groundwork for a smooth partnership ahead.
Setting firm boundaries and prioritizing open and clear conversation helps keep the work process from getting derailed by disagreement. We’ll discuss these strategies more below.
Reason #3: Enjoy your projects!
Web designing can - and should - be fun. Relating to your clients on a people-to-people level is a big part of that. Instead of basing your interactions purely on deadlines, payments, and feedback, open up the relationship to collaborative brainstorming, pleasant conversation, and connecting over your shared experiences as business owners (or other topics you have in common).
We bet you’ll find the resulting laughter and empathic understanding alters the dynamic between the two of you, and therefore the project overall.
Now that we’ve covered why exactly building relationships with clients is so essential to your web design business, let’s move into how to forge those strong connections.
5 best practices for building great client relationships
Understand your client
Actively build trust through collaboration
Practice clear communication and set boundaries
Remember your client is human, too
Standardize your follow up
01. Understand your client
Before you start looking for your next client, spend some time identifying the characteristics you would want in your ideal collaborator. Consider the following questions:
What is the client’s professional field?
What is the size of their target audience?
What is their budget?
How would their colleagues describe their default role within a team? What are their major personality traits?
This sample profile is useful for generating leads that are right for your business. It guides how you structure your search, targeting the sectors and networks where you’re likely to find good prospective customers.
Knowing your ‘red flags’ also helps you preemptively filter out leads that may lead to a less productive working relationship, whether that’s for budget reasons, personality type, or a project that’s of no interest to you.
Once you find new clients, suddenly a real person replaces your mock persona. Because a successful web design project begins with extensive client research, another round of information gathering is in order.
For a more in-depth outline of this research step and how it can help you craft a winning web design proposal, see The Step-by-Step Guide to Optimizing Your Web Design Process.
In short, make it your mission to learn as much as possible about your client. That includes: business goals, project vision, aesthetic preferences, brand identity and story, and other involved stakeholders.
An initial client meeting is a great time to explore these topics, and ask for any additional assets (e.g. brand guidelines) that could help further your understanding.
This step builds towards a good customer relationship for several reasons:
The client will be impressed by your ability to frame your project proposal within the larger context of their business.
The design choices you propose along the way will be informed by the ‘larger picture,’ and your knowledge of the client’s taste and needs. That means a higher chance the client will like what they see at each stage, saving you time and impressing the client with your professionalism.
Time is often synonymous with value. Spending time learning about your client, and shaping the project according to what they share, is another way of saying: ‘I value and respect you.’ What better feeling to convey to a client to earn their loyalty in the long-term?
To expand on that last point, understanding your client helps you access empathy for them. This relational technique asks you to try and approach each conversation from their perspective. Sometimes the aspects that are most obvious to you - like how the client feedback process works - are nothing more than a murky question mark for them. They just might be too embarrassed to say so. Or not even realize what they don’t know.
When you step in their shoes, you are doing a big service to both them and you. You might notice the clarity of your explanations improve. Or the way you ask questions, and the focus with which you listen to the answers, might change. On paper, these may seem like small matters. But when it comes to how they impact clients, they’re a big deal. Showing you understand your client makes them feel heard, and helps them trust you with their vision.
02. Actively build trust through collaboration
While understanding is the fundamental layer to building trust between you and your client, there are a few other techniques you can employ to continue strengthening the relationship.
Starting from client interaction number one, take care to define all industry jargon. When you mention a revision round, explain what that is. When you say you’ll send a wireframe after two weeks, show your client a sample one you have on your computer, so they can picture what you’re talking about.
Clearing the smoke screen in front of the web design process will make your client feel more included, highlight your expertise, and prove that their business is in capable hands. As you will probably be working with many business owners, who are used to making executive decisions independently, it can feel jarring to hand over control to a new face. Practicing empathy and doing your best to walk them through every step will go a long way in minimizing some of their hesitation.
Similarly, it’s generally helpful to remember that, just as you are the expert in web design, the client is the expert of their own business. Mine each of your respective bodies of knowledge to tackle questions of audience targeting, usability, and brand voice. Combining forces is the key to an outstanding completed project. Soliciting your client’s opinion and engaging them in a discussion shows you take what they have to say seriously. They will trust you all the more for it.
03. Practice clear communication and set boundaries
It always comes back to this: communication, communication, communication. As we mentioned above, demystifying the web design process does wonders for bringing a client onboard and making the project a true team effort. Good communication doesn’t just happen when you need to define new words, though.
Early on, clarify the logistics surrounding what lies ahead. This includes stating the hours when clients can expect you to be available for questions, the assets you will require from them and when, the number and timing of revisions you grant, project timeline, and budget. Once you’ve verbally confirmed each of these points, formalize them in the signed contract.
So often, conflict can be easily prevented by managing expectations through open and direct communication. It’s yet another way to engage with the client as a contributor, rather than as a distant outsider. When you ask for their input during regular client feedback opportunities, and send regular updates about your progress, it puts you well on the road to building positive relationships with your clients.
04. Remember your client is human, too
The phrase ‘customer business relationship’ alone conjures up an image of two people sitting stiffly across from each other, wearing suits.
It definitely doesn’t have to be like that.
Remembering the person inside of your client will be a key to bridging the gap between the two of your and forming a great working relationship. A natural point to begin with this is during your initial client meeting when you’re asking all of those questions about their brand and business objectives. Amidst all of the technical talk, find the space to ask how they found themselves in this line of work. What personally motivates them? What was their professional journey?
And just as importantly: Who are their families? Pets? What are their upcoming travel plans? Inviting them to share of themselves (and reciprocating with your answers!) helps you see them in a new light, and introduces a new level of comfort to your interactions.
There will be many more opportunities for further conversation over the course of the project. If you have an in-person check in, treat them to a coffee or lunch after. Building these informal moments into your workflow with a client alleviates some of the intensity that can arise in the midst of fast-paced professional decisions, and makes it way easier to genuinely understand who they are.
05. Standardize your follow up
Using the tips above, you’ve managed to reach the launch date of the new website with a satisfied customer. After spending so much time learning each other’s working rhythms and style preferences, the natural next step is earning them as a customer for the long term.